Meet Maria: Shining a light on bioaerosols

My name is Maria Prass and I’m a PhD student at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz. Already during my master studies, I worked as a research assistant in the group of Christopher Pöhlker who’s focused on aerosol analytics. Born in the countryside, I was always familiar with living next to the forest. Nevertheless, the forest and all its small to large inhabitants are fascinating me up even today. Studying biology seemed to be the perfect match for me. Who would have thought, that this would move me to be a scientist in the most beautiful but at the same time endangered ecosystem in the world: the Amazon rainforest?

To understand the hydrological cycle of the Amazon, we need to know more about the underlying processes. Here, biosphere-atmosphere interactions play a major role. So-called bioaerosols, such as bacterial cells or fungal spores, are supposed to influence the formation of clouds and precipitation. Thus, I analyze their airborne concentrations and distribution within and above the forest canopy. My job was the implementation of a new molecular genetic technique for Amazonian aerosol samples. In close collaboration with microbiologists from the MPI for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, I established “Fluorescence in Situ Hybridization” (FISH) for bioaerosol quantification and identification. By FISH-ing bioaerosols, I can make them shine in bright fluorescent colors under the microscope. Creating these colorful images of bioaerosols is not only a nice eye-catcher at conferences, but it also allows us to draw conclusions on their airborne numbers and thus, their potential influence on climatic processes in the Amazon.

It’s an honor being allowed to work at such a stunning place. I couldn’t be any happier being a member of the ATTO-family!